La Cucaracha

I don’t know which was more horrifying – the young woman with the spiky hair and tattoos who answered the door, or the little cockroach which scurried across the front of the door when it opened, no doubt roused from the dark safety of the doorframe. He paused as if to greet me before continuing his path across the front of the door.
I was delivering my weekly Meals on Wheels, and this particular client lived in a rooming-house type apartment building where the stairs to her second-floor apartment were so steep and narrow that I not only wondered if they even complied with building or fire codes, but if I would be able to safely ascend with the meal and soup delicately balancing in my arms.
I was mortified to see the little insect.
I don’t know what it is about the cockroach, but it ignites a visceral feeling in my being that shakes me to the core.
Don’t get me wrong.
I love insects.
I don’t mind flies, and even like the tickling sensation when they land on my arm.
I tolerate mosquitos – and have even been known to let one slake its thirst with my blood rather than kill it.
I have the greatest admiration for spiders. Their intricate webs so delicately engineered to be creations of beauty and function, as they passively snare a meal to the great chagrin of the victims who happens along.
I like ants – and have a deep respect for their work ethic, strength, their social order and society.
And don’t get me started on bees – I really love them especially – and have the highest regard for their society, hierarchy, work ethic, and of course, their honey.
The lowly earwig – meh. I can tolerate them and seeing one doesn’t make or break my day. They really mean us no harm. I don’t know what their purpose is except to be food for other creatures.
But the cockroach is another story.
I can name every time and place I have encountered one in my life.
The first time I ever came across them was in my early 20’s when I got my first apartment after moving to Montreal.
It was infested with them.
But of course, you don’t see them in the daytime when you are being shown the apartment.
It is only at night, when you turn on the light switch to the bathroom that you see them scurrying to safety.
All across my bathrobe that was hung on the door.
All across the mirror and wall.
Sometimes on the kitchen counter.
The building management did spray for them quite often, but to no avail.
It was so bad that my friend didn’t even want to go in and water my plants when I was away.
Another sighting was at the Union Station cafeteria in downtown Toronto.
There I was, about to get a snack before boarding a bus back to Montreal when one crawled across the tray beside the food which was to be my lunch. I left without eating.
Another time I was on the phone with my friend at another apartment I had just moved into in Montreal, when one crawled out of an old, used television I had just purchased. I screamed so loud my friend thought I was being murdered. I never did tell her why I screamed. I was too ashamed. Suffice it to say that the old tv set had its own residents. I don’t think I ever used it after that.
And there was one incident at a large country home I had when one crawled across the kitchen floor. Again, I screamed. I was happy to squish that one into an early grave with a paper towel. There had never been one before or since that incident. I have to believe it was an errant creature who lost its way and found its way to our home as a stowaway somehow.
There is the theory that they are such resilient creature that they will be all that is left to survive after our planet is destroyed by a nuclear bomb or climate crisis.
They are survivors, that is for sure.
And like most blights and bad things, we humans bring it upon ourselves.
Our filth has made our world a place for cockroaches to thrive.
Just as rats find a way to target our piles of garbage, cleaning up what we leave around, so too do cockroaches become attracted to our mess.
Our dirty kitchens and homes and businesses become their breeding grounds.
A great place to set up shop, start a family, and have lots to eat.
They are resourceful.
So much so there is even a song about them, La Cucaracha, although it is really about much more than just a cockroach who can’t walk.
But nevertheless, I don’t know if there is a song about spiders, ants or mosquitos.
Although there is the movie Antman, which is definitely worth a watch or two, and will make anyone love ants even more.
But I digress.
Why do cockroaches enact such a visceral, physical response in me? So much so that I can remember every encounter?
Why don’t rainbows do the same thing?
Perhaps in a previous life they played a big factor.
I don’t dare even imagine what.
But it seems wherever there are clusters and large groupings and gatherings of people, in cities or slums, the cockroach will find a way to them.
They are only too happy to oblige, accepting our invitation with the leftover food that is not put properly into the garbage, crawling over the dirty dishes in the sink that weren’t washed the night before.
I shudder to think.
Perhaps in some deep, dark corner of my mind that is why I always make sure the kitchen is clean and tidy before going to bed at night.
I make sure the recycling bin in the kitchen pantry is emptied into the large bin in the garage.
No unintended lures, invitations or temptations, thank you very much.
And there is something about the way they move that gives me the willies.
Their six little legs moving them along in such a fast manner that they are hard to keep track of.
They seem to know that they are hunted, sought after, kill-worthy, prey.
They only come out at night, feel safe in the dark, free to binge their little cockroach hearts out on our messes.
A true indicator of how clean or dirty we are as a collective human species.
A sobering thought, and a reminder perhaps to clean up after ourselves, or the cockroaches will.


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